Forty years after the first execution of Gary Gilmore under contemporary laws, 18 pro-life people of faith were arrested at the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday — including Sojourners colleagues Lisa Sharon Harper and Peter Armstrong.
The group unfurled a 30-foot-long banner that read “STOP EXECUTIONS!” on the steps of the Court. On the sidewalk, a crowd of over 80 supporters observed the action, carrying 40 posters (1 for each year) with the names of the other 1442 men and women executed since 1977.
They also carried roses in two colors, a reminder that they are remembering both families of the murdered and families of the executed as they stand together saying, as one banner did, “We Remember the Victims, But Not With More Killing.”
The group included several murder victim family members, a death row exoneree, family members of the incarcerated, pastors and religious leaders, and national leaders in the death penalty abolition movement. It was the largest act of civil disobedience against the death penalty in modern history.
Shane Claiborne, influential Christian author and activist, speaking of the significance of religious leaders, said this: “Sadly, the death penalty has succeeded in America not in spite of Christians but because of us. Over 80% of executions in the past 40 years have been in the Bible Belt. As a Christian, that is especially troubling because one of the tenants of our faith is this: No one is beyond redemption. Much of the Bible was written by murderers who were given a second chance. Moses. David. Paul. The Bible would be much shorter without grace. So it was a beautiful thing to stand alongside my fellow clergy and faith leaders… And, if you go to jail, it’s good to have a nun and a priest next to you. As we look at history, we are reminded that we’ve got good company among the holy troublemakers who have gone to jail for justice. Abortion is not the only pro-life issue.”
Those arrested were Peter Armstrong (Sojourners, Washington, DC), Leroy Barber (Portland, OR), Abraham J. Bonowitz (Columbus, OH), SueZann Bosler (Miami, FL), Shawn Casselberry (Chicago, IL), Shane Claiborne (Philadelphia, PA), John Dear (Santa Fe, NM), Randy Gardner (Taylorsville, UT), Lisa Sharon Harper (Sojourners, Washington, DC), Derrick Jamison (Cincinnati, OH), Art Laffin (Washington, DC), Scott Langley (Ghent, NY), Michael McBride (Oakland, CA), Tom Muther (Topeka, KS), Doug Pagitt (Minneapolis, MN), Jack Payden-Travers (Lynchburg, VA), Sam R. Sheppard (Oakland, CA), and Kelton Tupper (Cheverly, MD).
Those arrested spent 30 grueling hours in D.C. lock-up with the Supreme Court police, D.C. Dept. of Corrections Central Cell Block, and in the holding cells of D.C. Superior Court. They were arraigned on Wednesday afternoon arraigned in chains before Judge Staples in D.C. Superior Court. They were charged with “parading” and given a “stay away order” from the grounds of the Supreme Court. A status hearing was set for Feb. 24.
Since 1977, there have been 1442 more state-sponsored executions. Nearly 3,000 prisoners are currently on death rows in 31 states.